“In 1966 the monks of Grottoferrata, near Rome, working on the restoration of Leonardo da Vinci's manuscripts, came upon a rough sketch, probably drawn in the 1490s, of a bicycle. It was an eye-catcher because the bicycle didn't exist, even in its crudest form, until about 1815. Though the sketch was not a da Vinci, the artist may have been one of his students, the monks reasoned. But it did confirm the obvious: that for centuries man had dreamed of finding a machine that would beat walking. The bicycle was the perfect answer. And who gave us this gizmo that enabled us to go faster and farther under our own steam than ever before?
Actually, no one man invented it. Rather, the bicycle evolved in Europe, slowly by trial and error, during the nineteenth century. A German was the first to attach two wheels to a wooden support with a handlebar and a seat. A Scottish blacksmith figured out how to make the vehicle self-propelled with a set of foot-powered cranks. A French cabinetmaker came up with the idea of pedals. What emerged by the mid-1880s pretty much resembled the bicycle we know today. In the 175 or so years the bicycle has been around, American inventors have made only one contribution to its basic design: the fat-tired mongrel known as the mountain bike, which Gary Fisher, tinkering with parts of motorcycles and tandem bikes in his California garage, developed in 1974. Within a generation, along with hybrids or cross-purpose bikes, it would account for nine of every ten bicycles sold in the United States. Touring bikes like my graceful, thin-tired Trek 520 were soon to become an endangered species.”
The passage quoted above is taken from Over the Hills,David Lamb's account of the present he gave himself for his 54th birthday – a two-month trip across America at ten miles per hour. Subtitled “A Midlife Escape Across America by Bicycle,” it's a highly personal account of coming to grips with middle age. From the start of his trip, in Alexandria, VA, to the finish line at the Santa Monica Pier, the author pedaled for 3,145 miles, encountering dogs with attitude, humans with stories to tell, and even a few other cyclists. Consider the following paragraph from Lamb's chapter about his ride across Oklahoma:
“Except for a combination gas station/convenience store, Slapout (population six) is a ghost town. The grocery store is boarded up and Fred's Café has been abandoned since Fred's health failed and his relatives moved up from the city to save the place but couldn't manage to scratch out a living. Slapout has only one claim to notoriety: it is the halfway point each summer in the world's longest and most grueling bicycle race, a 2,910-mile heart-stopper from Irvine, California, to Savannah, Georgia, that the winner grinds out in just over eight days....For four thousand years the speed of traffic on roads hardly changed at all. Abraham of the Old Testament could get where he was going just about as fast as could George Washington.. ..Either I was a wimp or they were insane. I preferred to believe the latter.”
Published in 1996, Over the Hills is a wonderful literary travelogue, fun and celebratory, a story about people met and challenges overcome. Be sure to read all about it!
Copyright © 2005, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.